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Monday, July 14, 2008

Annals of Annexation: Russia Moves Against Georgia

Vladmir Socor, writing on the Jamestown Foundation's Eurasia Daily Monitor:

Russia has practically ceased to recognize Georgia’s territorial integrity and internationally recognized borders, and is using force to underscore this fact. International organizations are as usual behind the curve in taking note of this development and drawing the conclusions from it. Russia had paid lip service to Georgia’s territorial integrity throughout the duration of the conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia while violating it massively in practice. The theoretical recognition made it possible for Russia (with a little help from its friends) to act as “peacekeeper” and “facilitator” in those conflicts. But even the lip service has ceased recently, while assaults on Georgia’s integrity and internationally recognized borders are becoming demonstrative and are no longer even denied.

On July 10 Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed that Russian Air Force planes had flown a mission over Georgia’s South Ossetia the preceding day. A communiqué from the ministry claims gratuitously that the flight was meant to prevent a Georgian military attack on the ground in South Ossetia. It suggests that the mission’s purpose was both intelligence-gathering and deterrence, and it credits in part the Russian “peacekeeping” troops for informing Moscow about Georgia’s alleged intention to attack (Interfax, July 10).

According to Georgian radar data, two pairs of Russian Air Force planes circled over South Ossetia between 8:00 PM and 9:00 P.M. local time for about 40 minutes on July 8. The four planes flew in from Russia’s North Ossetia and returned there. Georgia has protested and is recalling its ambassador from Moscow for consultations.

Moscow’s admission marks the first time in memory that it has acknowledged, and indeed claimed credit for, violating Georgia’s internationally recognized air space. As a matter of policy, Russia used to deny the air incursions, such as those over the Georgian-controlled Upper Kodori in March 2007 (bombing raid), near the Georgian town of Gori in August 2007 (missile drop), and the serial flights over the Abkhaz “conflict zone” and Black Sea coastal waters in April and May of this year. During these serial flights Russian jets shot down three unmanned, unarmed Georgian reconnaissance drones, eventually crediting the nonexistent “Abkhaz air defense” for those actions. Now, Moscow no longer deems it necessary (or plausible) to deny its intrusions and use of force in Georgia’s internationally recognized air space.

Routine references to Georgia’s territorial integrity have disappeared from official Russian policy statements since early this year. Those references used to be a fixture in Moscow’s statements, even if that integrity was always honored in the breach. Their disappearance is a further indication of Russia’s implicit de-recognition of Georgia’s territorial integrity at the level of official rhetoric, on top of the explicit non-recognition on the practical level.

Moscow now seeks to de-legitimize Georgia’s internationally recognized borders by attributing them to decisions by Soviet leaders. In continuation of this argument, the Duma’s International Affairs Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachev declared on July 10, “Georgia is a construction that emerged in the totalitarian Soviet Union, a construction whose authorship belongs to the then-dictator Iosif Stalin.” He went on to hint that Moscow was about to open some kind of representation offices in Abkhazia and South Ossetia (Ekho Moskvy, July 10). Kosachev enjoys close relations with the Kremlin. This thesis should be chilling to Ukraine, Moldova, Kazakhstan, and other ex-Soviet ruled countries, inasmuch as Moscow can use the same argument in trying to de-legitimize their post-1991, internationally recognized borders.

The Russian “peacekeeping” commander in South Ossetia, Major-General Marat Kulakhmetov, declared on July 4 that he might request an increase in the Russian troop contingent. On July 7 the official spokesman for Russia’s Ground Forces Command stated that additional troops and army aviation might be deployed to Abkhazia if necessary. The spokesman cited a CIS authorization from 1996 for such possible action, although CIS authorizations on “peacekeeping” never had any legal value. On July 10 the commander of Russia’s North Caucasus Military District, Colonel-General Sergei Makarov, announced that his troops were exercising for possible intervention in Abkhazia and/or South Ossetia, in the event that hostilities break out there (Interfax, July 4, 7, and 10). All three officers dropped any pretense that Russian troops were operating under any rules other than Russia’s own rules as “peacekeeper” in Georgia.

Similarly disregarding any rules of conduct, Russia claims the right for its warplanes to overfly the Abkhaz and South Ossetian “conflict zones” but denies (on penalty of shooting) Georgia’s right to fly unarmed, unmanned drones for minimal transparency there.

These latest moves are capping Russia’s presidential decree on establishing direct official relations with the Abkhaz and South Ossetian secessionist authorities (April 16), deployment of supplementary “peacekeeping” troops to Abkhazia (late April and early May), military seizure of the Georgian state-owned railroad in Abkhazia (late May), and Gazprom’s announcement (in June) of an exploration project for oil and gas in “partnership” with the “Republic of Abkhazia,” onshore and offshore in the Black Sea.

Thus, Russia is overtly de-recognizing Georgia’s territorial integrity and internationally recognized borders. It had feigned recognition in previous years only in the narrowest sense: namely, that it did not officially pose territorial claims to Georgia. Had it posed such claims, Moscow would have disqualified itself as a military “peacekeeper” and political “facilitator” in negotiations. It has now conclusively disqualified itself through its no-longer-disguised annexation of Georgian territories through use of force.


Anonymous said...

Too bad the focus is again on Russia vs. Georgia in stead of the poor people in Abkhazia and South Ossetia that have been terrorist for years by a fascist like Georgian regime. Abhazian and South Ossetian people are not recognized by the Georgian authorities they even had to stop talking and writing in their own language and they weren't allowed to learn their language and culture at school. They even had to change their last names to Georgian last names. No wonder both Abkhazia and South Ossetia wan to be independent from Georgia. They rather want to be part of Russia. Russia accepts their culture. Their is a reason why the Abkhaz and South Ossetian people have Russian passes.

It is clear that Russia is taking advantage of the situation, but the focus should lay on what Georgia is doing against Abkhazia and South Ossetia not on how 'bad' Russia is and how 'good' Georgia is. Both are just as bad.

If the international community accept kosovo as an independent nation than Abkhazia and South Ossetia have the full right to get independent as well.

La Russophobe said...

If you think the people of Ossetia and Abkhazia would be better off living under the fire-breathing racism of Russia's Kremlin, you are deeply confused.

If they get their freedom, then Chechnya must have its freedom. Do you support that as well?

Meanwhile, what you call "taking advantage" most reasonable people would call annexation. You have no basis whatsoever to believe that Russia will stop at Ossetia and Abkhazia; its goals is clearly the reannexation of Georgia itself, and this issue cannot be separated by any reasonable person.

Anonymous said...

Both of you are wrong. Russia is not "annexing" Abkhazia (at least not succeeding in it by any measure), and Abkhazians themselves do not want to be part of Russia proper. The current relationship between Abkhazia and Russia is more like an alliance of convenience, where both sides get what they want: Russia gets a measure of leverage vis a vis the current regime in Georgia, and Abkhazia gets much needed foreign investment and military backing against the Georgian threat. What Russia has been doing in Abkhazia is giving out passports to people in Abkhazia, repairing railroads, and putting in place a legal framework that makes it possible to legally trade with subjects of the Russian Federation. You may call these measures what you like, but they are very much appreaciated by the Abkhazians, as without these measures they cannot do things that people in recognized states take for granted, like traveling outside their own republic or engaging in legal trade with people accross borders. However, the Abkhazians are fully aware that Russia is using them for their own purposes, and they are currently trying very hard not to fall too heavily in under Russian influence. As the Abkhazians all too well remember, Russian rule has, historically speaking, not been much better than Georgian rule (The Russian Empire perpetrated both ethnic cleansing and genocide against the Abkhazians and other Circassian peoples during the wars in the Caucasus in the 1850s) Unfortunately, since the rest of the international community are loathe to deal with Abkhazia in any other way than as a subject of Georgia (which is both extremely shortsighted, as well as counterproductive if the goal is to decrease Russian influence in the Caucasus) this doesn't give the Abkhazians any other choice but to rely on Russia (and accept attempted Russian interferrence in their affairs). As for your assertion that Russia wants (or can) reabsorb Georgia proper, this is utter nonsense, as this is not very sensible, let alone practically viable for Russia. And yes; I support freedom for Chechnya as well, allthough in my opinion, the Abkhazians deserve this more.

Anonymous said...

Another thing I object to with the term "annexation" being used is that it implies that Georgia's current borders are legitimate. This is not the case. What Western governments, scholars and media are actually supporting when they vouch of the "territorial integrity" of Georgia, is rather the integrity of borders drawn up arbitrarily by despots like Stalin, and fortified by the policies of ethnic and demographic manipulation carried out with supreme use of violence by his henchman Lavrenti Beria.